Postcard from Papua New Guinea: Associate Professor Paul Jones
17 August 2012
Asia-Pacific urban researcher Paul Jones writes about his participation in a ceremony held in the PNG highlands to mark two major events of national significance.
As part of an ongoing University of Sydney research agreement with the PNG Office of Urbanisation based in Port Moresby, I was fortunate to be invited to participate in a special ceremony earlier this year in the Wahgi Valley, PNG Highlands.
At the ceremony, held at the village of Minj some 60 kilometres south-east of Mount Hagan, the Prime Minister, the Honorable Peter O'Neil, launched PNG's National Urbanisation Policy. He also declared a new Jiwarka Province, created by its separation from Western Highlands province.
The ceremony was attended by some 20,000 people, including not only villagers from the beautiful Wahgi Valley, but others who had travelled up to 300 kilometres to show support for the creation of the new province and, importantly, the urbanisation pilot project.
Villagers came from as far as Mendi (capital of the Southern Highlands province), many arriving in mini buses with the words 'urbanisation power' and 'jiwarka mendi urban power' scrawled in mud on the side of the packed vehicles. The villagers participated in full traditional ceremonial dress, showing their strength in numbers and reaffirming their clan and tribal identity.
In PNG 97 percent of land is customary land. It's governed by different and much more complex law (often unwritten and unrecorded) than formal state laws. Customary, unwritten law can prevail over written, formal state legislation. As towns and cities grow, they are encroaching onto customary land occupied by the indigenous land-holders. This complicates state-centric approaches to cohesive planning. Building support amongst customary land-holders is a key approach of the policy.
Under the new policy the PNG government will build on a series of pilot settlements to demonstrate how effective long-term planning is beneficial for the people of PNG. Presently the Office of Urbanisation has three pilot projects underway, one on state lands and two on customary lands.
A key reason for holding the launch at Minj is that one of the pilot projects is located there. The village was once a thriving rural service centre during the colonial days of the 1960s and 1970s (including having its own airport). It subsequently fell into decline as services were withdrawn and relocated to other towns. However, as part of a push to rejuvenate centres in both the urban and rural setting in PNG, albeit on a small scale, Minj is now being regenerated.
Physical planning, including new and upgraded roads, water supply, power and new land for housing, are now being rolled out with the support of an enthusiastic local committee of 300 plus members. Memories of what Minj was once like lives strongly in the minds of the local Minj and Jiwaka province people, hence their unprecedented support for local improvements.
With Minj located on state lands, the task of planning and implementing a pilot project in this location is comparatively less complex than the pilot projects underway in the major growing urban centres of Port Moresby and Goroka.
The Office of Urbanisation is hoping for increased support from development partners, both local and international, to implement the new policy and improve the urban conditions of towns and centres in both urban and rural areas.
Paul Jones is Associate Professor and Program Director of the Urban and Regional Planning Program in the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning, a member of the Sydney University Pacific Expert Group convened by Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International) Professor John Hearn, and a member of the local planning team in PNG that developed the National Urbanisation Policy. He is now assisting in the policy's implementation.
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